Taiwan's new premier affirms support for island's independence, China warns against such move

Newly-appointed Taiwan Premier William Lai is the first Taiwanese premier to openly acknowledge his pro-independence status. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING/TAIPEI (REUTERS) - China warned Taiwan on Wednesday (Sept27) that it would "reap the consequences" of promoting formal independence, a red line for Beijing which claims the island as its own.

Taiwan's government said, however, that it was a reality that the Republic of China (ROC) - the island's formal name - was a sovereign country, and that no matter what China said, it could not change this fact.

Taiwan is one of China's most sensitive issues. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring what it considers a wayward province under its rule.

Defeated Kuomintang forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of a Chinese civil war.

On Tuesday, newly-appointed Taiwan Premier William Lai , in delivering his first administrative report to Parliament, said: "I am a political worker who advocates Taiwan independence, but I am also a pragmatic pro-Taiwan independence theorist."

He is the first Taiwanese premier to openly acknowledge his pro-independence status, the South China Morning Post said.

He also noted that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are "independent of each other, with Taiwan being an independent sovereign state carrying the designation the Republic of China".

Asked if his pro-independence stance contradicted a position he once described as being "pro-China, loving Taiwan", Mr Lai said there was no contradiction, adding: "Pro-China, loving Taiwan means showing goodwill and reaching out to China in a friendly manner, while keeping Taiwan at the centre."

Mr Lai said it is most important to strengthen Taiwan and to continue exchanges with "China, the Beijing authorities".

"We are willing to make friends with them," the South China Morning Post quoted him as saying.

Mr Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said in reaction that cross-strait ties are not "country to country" relations, and there is no "one China and one Taiwan".

"Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory, has never been a country and can never become a country," Mr Ma said.

"The mainland side resolutely opposes any form of 'Taiwan independence' words or action, and will never allow the historical tragedy of national separation to repeat itself. The consequences will be reaped for engaging in Taiwan independence separatism," he warned, without elaborating.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said it did not matter what Beijing said, it was an "objective reality" that the ROC was a sovereign state.

"Taiwan's future and the development of relations across the Strait will be jointly decided by Taiwan's 23 million people,"it said.

Taiwanese officials have said previously that there is no need to declare independence, as the ROC is already an independent country, though its territory covers only Taiwan, a few offshore islands close to China and some in the South China Sea.

Relations between Taipei and Beijing have nosedived since Ms Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential election last year. China suspects her of wanting independence, but she says she wants to maintain peace with China.

Beijing has suspended a regular dialogue mechanism with Taipei established under the previous, China-friendly Kuomintang government in Taiwan, and there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan.

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